REVIEW: Goodfellas (1990)

goodfellas

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1990, Warner Brothers

Director:
Martin Scorsese
Producer:
Irwin Winkler
Writers:
Nicholas Pileggi (original book “Wiseguy” and screenplay)
Martin Scorsese (screenplay)
Cinematography:
Michael Ballhaus
Editing:
James Kwei
Thelma Schoonmaker

Cast:
Robert De Niro (Jimmy Conway)
Ray Liotta (Henry Hill)
Joe Pesci (Tommy DeVito)
Lorraine Bracco (Karen Hill)
Paul Sorvino (Paul Cicero)
Frank Sivero (Frankie Carbone)
Tony Darrow (Sonny Bunz)
Mike Starr (Frenchy)
Frank Vincent (Billy Batts)
Chuck Low (Morris Kessler)
Frank DiLeo (Tuddy Cicero)
Samuel L. Jackson (Stacks Edwards)

The story of mob whistleblower Henry Hill is revealed in this exhilarating look at the mob from world renowned director Martin Scorsese.

All his life, half-Sicilian, half-Irish young man Henry Hill has always wanted to be a gangster. To him, it is much better than being President of the United States. He begins his association by hanging out at the local hangout run by Paul Cicero. Henry quits school and soon finds himself having two best friends in the “business”, Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito. Together, these three begin to rise up the ranks of the Cicero Family and despite Jimmy and Henry having Irish blood, they are welcomed as respectable members of the family.

As time goes on, the ties within the family begin to unravel, beginning with Tommy killing Billy Batts, a made member of the Gambino Family. When Henry and Jimmy end up in prison for an incident in Tampa, Henry finds himself immersed in the world of drugs. Upon his release, Henry finds himself involved in drug running as a means to support his wife and kids. However, things really go to a head when the infamous Lufthansa Heist is committed by the likes of Jimmy and a crew. However, when some of the people involved begin to mess up as well as Henry’s drug running operation being blown, Henry realizes what is at stake and must make one of the most important and life changing decisions he will ever have to make.

Based on the real-life novel “Wiseguy”, written by Nicholas Pileggi, the film is the story of Henry Hill (1943-2012), a former member of the Lucchese crime family who in 1980 became an informant for the FBI and hid out in the Witness Protection Program. Pileggi collaborated with Martin Scorsese on this film version, from co-writing the screenplay to acting as a consultant and researcher for some of the cast members of the film.

While the film is based on the Lucchese crime family, certain names had to be changed for obvious reasons. Robert De Niro’s Jimmy Conway is based on James Burke (1931-1996), an Irish member of the mob who was responsible for the 1978 Lufthansa Heist at John F. Kennedy Airport, where six million dollars were stolen. In addition, Paul Sorvino’s Paulie Cicero is based on Lucchese capo Paul Vario (1914-1988). While De Niro and Sorvino are wonderful in their roles, the film truly belongs to Ray Liotta, who makes his breakthrough here as the real-life Henry Hill.

Liotta’s Henry is seen as both a “family” man and at times a family man. Lorraine Bracco gives a great performance as Henry’s wife Karen, who admits that while she is somewhat disgusted with Henry being a gangster, she can’t help but be seduced by the power Henry has sustained as a result of being a man with power. Joe Pesci is also terrific as Tommy DeVito, a hot-headed member and friend to Jimmy and Henry who lets his frustrations sometimes get the best of him. In a famous sequence when he tells a story to the gang and Henry tells Tommy how he is funny, Pesci improvises his dialogue to confront Henry about why he think he’s funny and it works so well here.

Aside from the performances, the depictions of mob violence are at times very graphic and at times shocking. However, they prove to be vital to the story and how cruel the mob can go to cover any tracks. This is a formula along with the real-life story that would again five years later when Pileggi adapted his book Casino with Scorsese and make another hit film with De Niro and Pesci in the major roles of Sam Rothstein, based on Frank Rosenthal, and Nicky Santoro, based on mobster Anthony Spilotro.

Goodfellas is a very exciting and realistic look at the life of a mobster as seen through the eyes of a mobster turned FBI informant. While the real Henry Hill passed away in 2012, his legacy will forever live on in both Nicholas Pileggi’s book and this very film. If you like gangster films, this is truly a must see on your list.

WFG RATING: A+

DVD

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